British Optimist sailor Haydn Sewell was only 11 when he qualified to sail for team GBR in the 2014 European Championships in Ireland. Now aged 13 and currently sixth in the UK rankings, he has his immediate sights set on the Optimist World Championships, with Olympic hopes further down the line. Marina caught up with him to find out more…
Marina How did you start sailing?
HS I was very lucky, in that I met lots of top sailors before I started sailing because of my dad’s job at the time [Haydn’s dad, Tim Sewell, was Skandia’s Brand and Sponsorship Manager managing sponsorships including Skandia Team GBR, Skandia Cowes Week and Skandia Geelong Week, before moving on to become Head of Marketing and Media at the International Sailing Federation (ISAF)]. I first met Iain Percy when I was a week old! All this got me interested in sailing. Apparently I first went sailing when I was 18 months old in Geelong, Australia, but the first time I remember was going out in a Pico with my Dad from UKSA in Cowes.
Marina Is it a family activity?
HS My Dad used to sail, but he doesn’t get the opportunity much anymore because he’s always taking me to events and training. We all get involved at the Optimist events and my Mum quite often helps on the Regatta Fleet committee boat, but she doesn’t sail. We have an RS Feva at Gurnard SC, so we sometimes go out for some fun in that too. I have a 10-year-old sister, Freya, who also sails an Optimist. She is in the Regatta Fleet at the moment.
Marina Are you naturally competitive, and do you feel much pressure to get good results?
HS Yes, I’m very competitive! It’s really important to me to get good results and I’m very performance driven. I have the best fun sailing when I’m doing well. On the flip side, I feel a lot of pressure. It can make it tough sometimes so I am having to learn how to deal with that.
Marina How many hours a week/month do you train?
HS I train or race most weekends – we’re away from home and off the Isle of Wight about 40 weekends a year. During the week I do general fitness training and play other sports, like squash.
Marina How do you balance sailing/racing and school life?
HS I do a lot of my homework at school and make sure it’s done during the week so it doesn’t get in the way at weekends. Sometimes I have to miss a few days off school for training or events if they are a long way away, but I don’t mind that! Mum and Dad always tell me that if I don’t get my school work done and try hard then I won’t be able to sail, so I get it done!
Marina How has sailing had a positive effect on your life off the water?
HS Sailing really helps me off the water, especially at school. It helps with knowing how to deal with the pressure of tests and exams and has made me confident when speaking to teachers and asking for help and advice. My sailing and the coaching also helps with target and goal setting at school. I like helping out with the coaching at my club, too, and teaching others how to sail better.
Marina Do you have to look after yourself particularly well in order to stay fit and healthy?
HS I try to – I’m quite small and light for my age so need to eat to grow! I try to make sure I have a good balanced diet. I really like fruit and vegetables so it’s not too difficult. Before an event I try and eat lots of carbs at breakfast and before we launch, normally pasta, but sometimes it’s hard to eat when I’m nervous. My favourite quick snack on the water is Tracker Bars. My favourite meals are sushi and tapas. I like a nice big roast dinner after racing and training too.
Marina Do you have a mentor, or someone that you look up to?
HS I’m very lucky to have met Bart [Andrew Simpson (1976–2013)], Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy – they have all really inspired me to become the best sailor I can be. I even sailed with Iain once and helmed the Star, which was an incredible experience.
Marina What has been the best bit of advice that you’ve received about racing, and who was it from?
HS I’ve had a lot of very good advice from our friends Cordelia and Richard Ellis, in particular: ‘lose loudly and win quietly’. I also read an article by Hannah Mills and Saskia Clarke about Opi sailing that said ‘try not to take it too seriously… Keep it in perspective, remember you are at the beginning of your journey, just learn as much as you can and don’t worry too much about the results.’ It’s advice that I try to remember in those moments when I’m really feeling the pressure to do well.
Marina Where in the world have you raced, and what’s the best place that sailing has taken you?
HS I’ve raced in Monaco, Turkey, The Netherlands, Bermuda, France, Italy, Ireland and all over the UK. I’ve enjoyed everywhere that I’ve travelled, and being with sailors from other countries is great, but Bermuda is probably my favourite place in the world so far.
Marina Are there any races that you’d really like to compete in?
HS I’d really like to go to the Optimist World Championships. We have a selection event for this every year at the beginning of May and the top five sailors qualify. I would also really like to do the Easter Regatta at Lake Garda.
Marina How have you arranged sponsorship?
HS Crewsaver are my main sponsor, and provide me with all my dinghy sailing kit from their Phase2 range. My parents helped me arrange that sponsorship – I had to write about my sailing and what I wanted to achieve. North Sails offered to help when I was moving from Regatta to Main Fleet because I was doing well but my sails were so bad. Practical support from WightLink has helped with ferry costs when I travel to events and training, an opportunity that came about as part of the Isle of Wight Talented Athlete Scheme. SailSpy kindly gave me a GroPro because they were impressed with what I was doing and had been reading my blog haydnsewell1.blogspot.co.uk.
Marina Where do you hope that sailing will take you professionally?
HS I really want to be a professional sailor more than anything else – I would like to compete at the Olympics and then the America’s Cup. But I also like coaching too, so that’s a possibility for the future.